Wednesday, August 27, 2008

More thoughts on potential best of 2008 books

-I know I'm in a really small minority here, but I kind of think I might prefer a dark Superman movie. I've never been a fan of the character at all, and I always found the movies to be pretty dull and, frankly, dorky. In fact, I think it might have been those dorky movies which eliminated all my childhood interest in Superman, firmly placing me in the Batman (and, later, Spider-Man) camp. I'm still more interested in takes on the character which play around with his alienation from humanity, but not in a mopey "would that I were more like them" way, like the interminable Superman Returns. Actually, a few steps beyond that might be good. I think I find the character so boring that the only cinematic interpretation likely to hold my interest is the sort which destroys all licensing revenue for about a decade. (Tucker Stone almost convinces me that I should check out that Azzarello/Lee Superman comic here, but I'm not sure I care enough about Superman to read something which tears down his mythology. And that, plus the fact that I haven't seen either Iron Man or the Dark Knight, probably disqualifies me from further comment on the subject.

-On a similar note, do we have an up and coming blog commenter here? Like, at long last, a comics version of Raiderjoe? Let's see if he shows up in the comments at other blogs first. Please, no mention of names; we don't want him Googling himself and coming here, realizing he has an audience, then playing to us.

-Unpleasant comics bloggers (and you probably don't know who you are): motivated primarily by pettiness, or is pettiness the only discernible aspect of their online personalities?

-More of my ongoing efforts to think about a best of 2008 list: I posted a provisional best of 2008 list--really a best of the first half of 2008 list--back in May. Which means, I suppose, that it's not even a full half--more like 5/12. Anyway, as one would expect, there have been a lot of worthwhile books to come out since then. Here are my thoughts on those I've read which deserve consideration for a best of 2008 list:

Bottomless Belly Button by Dash Shaw
I really need to re-read this book. I liked a lot of the formal play in it, most notably the depiction of the youngest son. And, just as my brother had told me, it was rather reminiscent of Wes Anderson's films, most notably The Royal Tenenbaums. (I like Anderson's work, so I consider that a positive.) I thought it was good, but not quite as good as some people seemed to find it. I worry that missed something important--not just because other people whose opinions I respect liked it, but because it just felt like I missed something. Will try to re-read sometime between now and the end of the year.

Goddess of War #1 by Laura Weinstein
Another one which I liked, but not quite as much as other people did. I've become a bigger fan of underground comix in the last couple of years, and I appreciated the tonal similarities here. And, unlike some people (can't remember who--Jog, maybe?) I did like the extended (alternate) history lesson at the end. In fact, that's what pulled the whole book together for me. I enjoyed Goddess of War #1 quite a bit, but I think I'll like future issues even more.

Delphine #3 by Richard Sala
I've never read anything by Sala which I didn't like, but, naturally, some of his works (The Chuckling Whatsit) are stronger than others (The Grave-Robber's Daughter). Delphine #3 is the first transitional issue in the series, serving mostly putting everything and everybody in the right place for the final issue. Alternately, it also felt kind of padded out, as if Sala realized he couldn't finish the series in three issues, decided to make a fourth issue, but didn't actually have enough plot for four issues. That's not to say that I actually think this was the case, but it certainly read that way. It's still much better than nearly everything else on the stands, especially when compared against other periodicals/pamphlets (I know I'm stretching the definition a bit to include something with the frequency/format of Ignatz titles, but whatever). I just didn't think this was as good as the first two issues. Can't wait to sit down and read the whole story, start to finish.

Grotesque #2 by Sergio Ponchionne
This, however, was significantly better than the first issue, and I liked the first issue a lot. Ponchionne's art is even better than in the previous issue, just bursting with life, a real joy to behold. The story is a bit more straightforward, but doesn't exactly seem to line up with the previous issue. The characters in this issue, however, are much better realized, and perhaps better suited to Ponchionne's strengths as a cartoonist. Very impressive; maybe the most underrated comic of 2008 so far.

BTW, it's generally too bad that the lesser-known European cartoonists in the Ignatz line don't seem to be getting the attention they really deserve. I mean, it's not unexpected that artists who are relatively unknown in North America would be overshadowed by the likes of David B. or Kevin Huizenga, two of the five or ten best cartoonists working today. But Ponchionne is doing tremendous work on Grotesque, and Gabriella Giandelli's Interiorae is also excellent.

Disappearance Diary by Hideo Azuma
Some people--not just ill-informed superhero-only fans shooting off their mouths, but also people whose opinions are worth considering--seem deeply suspicious of autobiographical comics. I'm not entirely unsympathetic to this position, actually, but there are a number of autobiographical works I find compelling. This is one of them. Hideo Azuma has certainly lived an interesting life, and his approach to putting it in comics form is pretty interesting as well. Azuma includes a disclaimer warning the reader that the events depicted in Disappearance Diary will eschew reality for positivity. That's sort of true to an extent, especially for the first third of the book, but bits of darkness begin to seep into the second section. The third, dealing with Azuma's treatment for alcoholism, is actually quite dark. And there are certain prima facie issues raised by Azuma's life which the upbeat tone can't fully disguise. Is the manga industry so exploitative that it has driven Azuma to voluntarily choose homelessness, not once but twice, despite no apparent preexisting interest in this lifestyle? What do we make of the interview in the inside cover? And why does Azuma try to be so relentlessly upbeat? This is a much deeper book than one might assume by browsing it in the bookstore. (Not that it's readily available in most bookstores, being a Fanfare/Ponent Mon release.) I'd strongly recommend tracking this down if you haven't already.

Where Demented Wented by Rory Hayes; edited by Dan Nadel and Glenn Bray
This is probably the book I was most anticipating for 2008, and I was certainly not disappointed. If you've read the Nadel-edited Art Out of Time, you're familiar with Hayes' work. And, for that matter, you've read his best single story, "Evolve," which I consider one of the great short stories in comics history. That's here, along with the complete Cunt Comics #1, Boogeyman Comics #1, and assorted high points from the remainder of Hayes' career. None of it is quite as good as "Evolve," but there's plenty of essential material here which you can't easily track down anywhere else. Of particular note is an alternate version of "Terror From the Grave," all in pencil. The original, single page story from Arcade #6 crams dozens of panels onto a single page; here we see it at a more subdued pace, extending to four and a half pages. I would imagine this would be a valuable teaching tool for anyone interested in the mechanics of pacing in comics; more importantly, it reveals Hayes' sophistication and versatility as a storyteller. Hopefully this book will help reestablish Hayes as something much more than a primitivist shock artist; readers might even be surprised by his aesthetically pleasing line in some later strips. There's a lot to chew on here. It's inconceivable that I would place this outside my top 10 for 2008; I would bet that it will end up in the top five.

Tales Designed to Thrizzle #4 by Michael Kupperman
Has there ever been a funnier comic than Tales Designed to Thrizzle? As I've said before, I think this might be the funniest issue to date. Kupperman jams the pages with jokes, working in a text-heavy style that isn't always exactly comics. It really sort of reminded me of the much-lamented Motorbooty, unquestionably the greatest zine of all time. It was in that very zine, in fact, where I first saw Kupperman's work. Has anyone ever talked about Tales Designed to Thrizzle as a gateway comic? I showed it to a friend who (literally) only bought no-adjective X-Men, and he loved it, buying a copy for himself immediately. My wife voluntarily reads it. Why isn't Michael Kupperman rich yet?

The Rabbi's Cat vol. 2 by Joann Sfar
Possibly even better than the first volume. Actually, I thought the first story was a little weak in comparison, but the long, final story (concerning a Russian Jewish painter who accidentally arrives in Algeria) was as strong as anything I've ever seen from Sfar. His art is as good as I can ever remember, and the themes of the book all seem to come to a head in this final story. Some might complain that the cat is more peripheral in this volume, which is true, I guess. Is there enough additional material in France to support a third American volume?

Final Crisis by Grant Morrison, JG Jones, et al
I'd like to echo Sean Collins' recent comments on superhero comics vs. alt comics here. Or maybe go a step further. Final Crisis is good, potentially very good when all is said and done, but at present, it's nowhere near as good as anything above it on this list. It's not that Grant Morrison isn't capable of writing excellent comics; I would certainly put Seven Soldiers on a hypothetical 50 best comics of the 00s list, and I might put New X-Men on such a list as well. Probably definitely on a top 100. (I will likely make some sort of list of this nature when the decade draws to a close; I guess we'll see then.) See also: Tom Spurgeon re: Watchmen vs. contemporaneous alternative comics.

(I'm tempted to say something about Vertigo here, but...I'm not sure how to finish that sentence. I can say this: Vertical > Vertigo.)

Invincible Iron Man by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca
This is probably the superhero comic I'm enjoying the most so far in 2008, a worthy successor to The Order (my favorite superhero comic of 2007). Do see disclaimers in item above, however.

Still to come: Sammy the Mouse #2, Babel #3, Aya vol. 2, Black Jack, Kramers Ergot vol. 7 (see Tom Spurgeon's interview with Sammy Harkham if you're not convinced you want to shell out for it), Nocturnal Conspiracies (upcoming David B. collection; not getting that much attention, but there's a really good chance that this will be the book of the year), Gemma Bovary Tamara Drewe (North American release--thanks for the correction, Chris), Travel (new Yuichi Yokoyama book), Alan's War (upcoming Emmanuel Guibert--thanks again, Chris), Breakdowns (thanks yet again, Chris)

Haven't read yet: Abandoned Cars, MOME vol. 12, The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard, Typhon vol. 1

Haven't finished reading: Dororo vol. 1, What It Is. I know this is pathetic--these books have been out for months!--but I once again plead innocence by virtue of interrupted life due to move across country.

Own but have not attempted to read yet: Good-Bye, Red Colored Elegy. See excuses made in item above.


Anonymous said...

Tales Designed To Thrizzle #4 is great, great stuff. That full page ad you mentioned in a previous post absolutely killed me.

I do have a quibble with this lastest issue though: "The Scardey Kids" story had already been printed (in color) in Hotwire Comix and Capers. It's not a big deal, really. I was just a little disappointed because I want as much original Kupperman as possible.

Anonymous said...

The 2nd book of The Rabbi's Cat includes volumes 4 and 5 of the French series, which is everything up until now. Sfar is working on more, as well as a live-action film adaptation of the series.


Brian said...

Dude, issue 2 of Sammy The Mouse is out. I think it has been for a while, like maybe a month?

Dick Hyacinth's Ghost said...

I think it's out direct from Fantagraphics, but not from Diamond. I'll be getting it from an online source whose supplier is Diamond. In other words, I don't have it yet, and I'm guessing that most stores don't have it yet either.

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